Manhattan DA’s Keystone Verdict

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No matter what face jurors wear coming into a case, in their mind, a defendant is guilty until proven guilty. The "Apartheid system of justice," has not been addressed and still is in full effect every day these courts are opened.

[Column: On The Spot]

Part one of two

Columnist’s Note: The names of all parties in this case have been omitted and will be mentioned in part two.

It does not take much to send an African American to jail regardless of whether she or he is represented by a court appointed attorney or a paid one. 

Another young African-American male from Harlem will be sitting in jail trying to prove his innocence because of his Cornrow hair style. A case brought in the court by the New York County District Attorney’s Office was filled with reasonable doubt of mistaken identity and a touch of witness tampering; he should not have been convicted. 

The jury should have been asked: "Do you feel the defendant is one of your peers?"

Each one of them would have answered: "No."

I sat in on this criminal trial from the beginning when the jury was being selected; to when the verdict was read. Clearly, there is not one doubt that people who live in the city are fed up with gun violence and the use of illegal guns on our streets. But the position the Manhattan DA has taken – any Black man will do – will not go unchallenged.

I would never put my life in the hands of 12 people whose understanding of the criminal justice process may just come from a television screen. After learning and having personal information of the facts in this case, I walked away from this verdict with the same feeling about criminal courts and its juries.

No matter what face jurors wear coming into a case, in their mind, a defendant is guilty until proven guilty. The "Apartheid system of justice," has not been addressed and still is in full effect every day these courts are opened.

The case was generated from a July 20, 2008, 3:45 A.M. cell phone call to 911 made by a private citizen employed as a security guard and who normally volunteers his personal time as an Auxiliary policeman but was off duty at the time.

The guard reported "shots fired on the corner of 139th Street and Lenox Ave., and three African American males" leaving the scene in a blue car. He forgot to get the license plate number.

Approximately one-hour-and-a-half later, arrests were being made and the Keystone cops syndrome began to take effect. One "male Black," shooter equals five African Americans being arrested; three males and two females.

It’s a known fact; regarding four of the five arrested, cases were dismissed after a court hearing and the shooter was set free. However, the defendant who was known to a detective at the arresting precinct from a prior gun complaint, became the sole perpetrator.

The shooting took place hours after a day of fun had ended on 139th Street.

"Man there was hundreds of people from everywhere out here that day," recalled a resident who would only give his name as Jay. "It went on until the wee hours of the morning the next day. I heard there was a fight on Lenox Ave., but I don’t think those people were from around here."

He added: "People in Harlem always partying in the summer time, but some of these guys out here think it is OK to just pull out a gun and start shooting. I was down the block near Fifth Ave. when I heard those shots and just went home."

Ten months later, the Manhattan DA’s office would use their two star witnesses, both volunteer Auxiliary policemen who were sitting in the same private vehicle approximately 20 feet away from where the shooting began.

They both stated that the shooter was "left handed" and wearing a "Yankee fitted cap," and somehow knew he had cornrows that went from the front of the head to the back. How could they determine the hair style at 3:45 A.M. in the dark under a hat?

They stated that the shooting took approximately 10 seconds from start to finish, but could not remember to tell the 911 operator the shooter had cornrows; they failed to mention anything about cornrows hours after the shooting when they wrote their reports; and, here is reasonable doubt in the worst way.

At 12:01 A.M. that same July morning, these two auxiliary policemen completed their volunteer duty, and from that time until the 3:45 A.M. shooting, they could not remember what they were doing and testified to the fact, while sitting on the corner of 139th Street and Lenox Ave. facing westward, they heard two shots, a pause, then saw the shooter with a black gun in his left hand fire five more shots with the gun pointing upward in the air bumping his arm in an up and down motion while shooting.

They remembered hearing three clicks from the gun, which indicated the shooter, ran out of ammo.

It was not clear if these auxiliary policemen gave a physical description of the shooter to the 911 operator and stated under sworn testimony: "The shooter was wearing a dark blue Yankee fitted baseball cap, white v-neck tank top with white dress button down shirt over it, and dark shorts."

The defendant, in the court case, had actually been wearing a black fisherman hat and an under shirt known as a wife beater upon his arrest. Pictures are in evidence; this shows reasonable doubt was ignored by the jury.

The DA’s office depends on DNA testing in many of their cases. Yet in this case, none of the defendant’s DNA could be found on any part of the gun.

So the DA was allowed by the court to have a former girlfriend of the defendant to testify that the gun used in the shooting was his because she was once in his bedroom, when he had the gun, and that he kept it under his mattress.

However, if true, this former girlfriend, who said she knows nothing about guns and was not present at the shooting on west 139th Street, left lots of doubt about the gun in question as to it being the same gun she said she earlier saw in the defendant’s possession.

There is no doubt a shooting took place on July 20th 2008 on the southeast corner of 139th Street, near Lenox Ave., but from the testimony there’s still a lot of doubt as to who pulled the trigger.

This case took a turn for the worst inside the 32nd precinct.

One of the arresting officers, a trained New York City police officer, told the defendant’s mother "we have the shooter." The officer was not referring to her son and gave her the defendant’s property; two cell phones, keys, diamond earring, and the black fishermen’s hat he was wearing, which was hers.

However, the arresting officer did not mention this when he testified at the Grand Jury or 10 months later at trial. When asked, the officer did not remember the hand the defendant used to sign his memo book when he gave him the permission to release his property to his mother.

This officer is trained to be an observer and should know if someone he has in custody is left handed.

As these auxiliary policemen stated: "We are the eyes and ears of the police department," just like the police department is the information body for the district attorney’s office.

The information the DA gets is the information the DA has to prosecute with. No matter if the information derives from Keystone tactics; it’s presented as true facts and highly believable in a court-of-so-called law.

A defendant is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty – go ask eighty-five percent of the incarcerated offenders on Rikers Island if they believe that to be true.

This is a case where the law of the land meets the rules of the streets. On the streets it is called "No snitching." In law enforcement it is called "The blue wall of silence," two different worlds with the same premise.

The defendant said he held out long enough to tell the DA, "I was not the shooter," and testified before the jury saying his statement was recorded on videotape at the DA’s office. Where is the tape?

The DA had a box full of evidence, absent the Yankee fitted cap the shooter was witnessed wearing, which their star witnesses testified to, and the missing tape. These were just some of the items the jury should have been more interested in asking to see because reasonable doubt is still present and a young man’s freedom is on the line.

The jury asked for read backs of testimony and wanted to know the weight of the gun. Five minutes after the read back of the arresting officer’s testimony, a juror asked to be discharged alleging a doctor’s appointment being the reason.

A half hour passed, the jury foreperson sent a note saying they "were in an impasse."

The next day, after a read back of one of the auxiliary’s testimony and the judge’s instruction to the jury about the court being closed Friday and they would have to
come back on Monday – the jury found the defendant guilty in five minutes. The "impasse" was suddenly out the window.

The sentencing date is scheduled for June 15th; I will follow up with part two on this story after that date. If you know anyone who can add any information about this story, please contact me.

Contact Winkfield for his consideration regarding covering your own story: (646) 387-8964; By mail: On The Spot, Post Office Box 230149, Queens County 11423; Email: or; call (212) 481-7745. Together we can get the justice everyone just talks about.

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